Two days ago I picked up a book I bought some time ago and never read. I am not going to lie… that is a frequent occurance in my life. I mostly buy used books online so while I save money sometimes I miss that thumbing through it first to see if it “feels” like a book I want to read. Anyone know what I mean?
Just the same, I picked up the dark blue cover of “40 Days in the Judean Desert” from the bookshelf and immediately began to wonder how I could have overlooked it for the months. The title is pretty straightforward. It is a memoir of a man who had an experience with Jesus and felt called to spend 40 days in the desert like Jesus had.
I am only a few days in to his journey and so far he’s mostly written about the scorpians and the lizards and the dizzying heat. And somehow I have gotten a longing to go from his description of desolation and loneliness.
He must be a really good writer.
Cohen and I were inching along the road last night to attend the latter half of a SuperBowl party at our friends’ home. “Inching” due to the winter storm that dumped about 14 inches of snow on Logan County and “the latter half” because 2 year olds aren’t known for their ability to make it through long parties and I figured the second half would be the half to see. Not that I saw any of it, but you know…
It was taking forever to get to Beth and Will’s and then we made it to the train tracks just in the time for the criss cross barriers with blinking red lights to lower. I was slightly annoyed at another delay, but Cohen was elated. He watched in utter amazement as the train zipped by louder and faster than he had imagined. I watched his blue eyes widen through the rearview mirror.
He started talking about how fast the train was and how he wanted to RIDE ON IT! He told me on Tuesday of last week that he was going to swim with sharks and kick them in the head and then on Friday he told me if there were any snakes in our yard he was going to smash them with his feet. Sometimes I wonder if I should remind him he weighs 27lbs? 😉 So I tried to the turn the conversation by telling him how sad it would be to Mommy if he fell off of a train going that fast. He thought for a moment and told me he’d kick the train if it made him fall off. I probably should have seen that one coming, eh?
I finally convinced him that trains for people moved more slowly so it was safe and that he could definitely ride on one sometime. As the words came out of my mouth, I suddenly had flashbacks of riding through the Swedish countryside on a train with my mom, my sister, my then-fiance, and a few other people. The cars were all windows and the green landscaped, punctuated by the vestiges of winter snow sped by, creating that nostalgic pit in my stomach. It was a magical experience that left me wondering why trains aren’t used more here. I suppose because we are more concerned with time and convenience than magical experiences.
Anyway I told Cohen about the train in Sweden, emphasizing the things he’d care about (read: speed, color, sound). He crossed him arms in the backseat “Why you not wait for me, Mommy?” I decided to forego trying to explain that he hadn’t even be conceived at that point, and instead told him, “I promise Cohen that someday you and I will go on a train. We will have all sort of adventures! Mommy is going to take you to Africa or Asia..somewhere!”
He got quiet. I hoped that it was because he had no idea what gigantic promises I just made him. Who am I kidding? He was taking mental notes to hold me to every word. *grin*
Its not even 9 in the morning yet and he’s already asked me twice when we are going on that train ride.
I awoke this morning to another day in Ohio’s winter wonderland. I have to admit, with the sun shining intermittenly, it is gorgeous. I tend to hate winter because I hate the cold. I got challenged to think of it differently by a friend who painted a picture of a cabin nestled in the woods, surrounded by mountains, a wood burning fireplace inside and cocoa in hand. I keep clicking my heels, but no such cabin has appeared. Still, the imagery helps when you are for days on end trapped in house. Maybe it wouldn’t be better in a cabin (hence the term “cabin fever”). Who knows.
I was thinking it was the snow, though. I was blaming this itching feeling on the snow. I was thinking, perhaps all of this winter is making me want adventure more than usual. Perhaps that’s why I am trying to figure out when I can fly to Israel and experience the heat of the desert. Perhaps that is why watching a train with my toddler had me transporting back to a train in Sweden and making promises I hope God will help me keep.
Its not the snow, though.
I asked God about it this morning. “Lord, is it the snow?” I asked. “You know it isn’t”
I did know.
My brother in law Shane once told me this long story about this season of his life that was very trying… he was depressed and dealing with a lot of anxiety and then a tree fell on him and a bunch of other stuff. I don’t remember all of the details because what he ended the conversation with was so unexpected. “Sometimes I really miss that season.” At the time he shared this with me, I was in the middle of my own trying season and I thought he was being overly spiritual… or that he was insane… or both.
The Lord brought that story to my mind this morning and on the heels of it this passage from a book a recent read and LOVED.
“The ground was dreadfully muddy and slippery, and although the path did not climb nearly so steeply as before, after some hours Much-Afraid found to her amazement that she was missing the rolling thunder of the storm and even the sickening crash of the trees as lightening splintered them.
She began to realize that, cowardly as she was, there was something in her which responded with a surge of excitement to the test and difficulties of the way better than the easier and duller circumstances… she founder herself realizing with astonishment that even the dizzying precipice had been more to her liking than this plodding on and on…In some way the danger of the storm had stimulated her; now there was nothing but tameness…”
The book is “Hinds Feet on High Places” by Hannah Hurnard and yes, you should purchase and then slowly digest it. It is an allegory of a girl named Much-Afraid and her journey to the High Places the Shepherd had promised to take her. At the point where this passage picks up, she has been attacked by her fiercest enemies (Pride, Bitterness, Resentment and that old Self Pity), she has taken an unexpected detour into the desert, wandered for days on the shores of loneliness, climbed the precipice of of injury, and made her way through the forest of tribulation and danger. She finds herself in a dense fog, walking for days on end. The way isn’t rough or steep or dangerous and yet the tameness of it has her missing the places she had so reluctantly already traveled.
What the writer said some 60 years ago and my wise brother in law said, I now understand.
Though there are many loose ends still to be tied up in my life, after years best described as tumultuous, things are slowing down to a low hum. The ends and new beginnings are within view, coming steadily and assuredly and for once, I don’t wish them to be sooner than they will be. I no longer wake with surging anxiety and a list as long as my arm of things I need to do but feel I can’t. Let me clarify: I don’t miss that.
What I do miss is aching you feel when you realize how much you need Jesus every single second. I still need him every second, but sometimes when I wake up and the whole day is in front of me with nothing to dread, its easier to just go through the motions of potty training and nose wiping and laundry folding. I doubt Shane really missed the sensation of a tree falling onto his back, but I know what he meant about the pangs of longing that come later.
No one ever goes into the wilderness and comes out the same. The Bible states that at the end of time, fire will reveal what things really are composed of… some things will be refined and others burnt up. Wilderness seasons are like that. A lot of things in my life were consumed, burnt up, shown to be hollow and selfish and vain. Other things were tested and tried and shown to be purer for the fire. I hated every second of stepping into that fire, but now I almost look forward to the next time My Refiner will ask me to step back in. I hope next time I will step in with less whining and sniveling. Oh you didn’t think there would be a next time? Always is, friends, always is.
Testing has a transformative power that is almost unparalled. It has a way of burnining up the impurities from atop of what is really Good and Holy and Right. I know you didn’t want me to say that, but its true.
I had a pretty tame life until a few years ago. Things mostly went my way. I did well in school. I had friends. I thought I loved God and in a way, I did. What the fire taught me was that my love for Him was as shallow as a teenage crush. I loved Him for what He could do for me. I loved Him largely for what loving Him made me feel. I loved the club I joined by associated with Him.
When my life was not panning out how I had hoped and I was stretched and pulled and hurting beyond what I knew how to cope with and the crush feelings had long worn off, I had a decision to make, although I didn’t realize that was what I was really staring in the face. I thought I was depressed. But the real issue was this: was I going to abandon Him because nothing was what I once thought or was I going to really love Him?
In the end, I found that once everything else had burned away and the chaff had scattered, I loved Him. The words of Job started to make sense, “though He slay me, yet will I serve Him”. When the club seemed more like a dysfunctional family and when I didn’t have the warm fuzzies and even when He wasn’t doing what I thought He should when I thought He should, that’s when I found out what it means to love Him.
Much-Afraid has a similar experience in the allegory. She begins to wonder if the Shepherd has lied to her and is only playing a mean trick on her because she’s not seeing His promises come to fruitition in her timing. The Shepherd asks her, “what if I did lie to you?” She weeps and wrestles with it, ultimately concluding she could never leave Him even if He had, which of course, He hadn’t. But it is that depth of love we need…the kind with no strings attached… its that love which has for its closest companion obedience. Crush level love will never associate with obedience for long.
I remember in college, curling up in my closet (it had a deep shelf that was the perfect size for a pillow and a lamp and I did my best reading and praying there) and telling God I wanted Him to use my life. I meant it too. I just meant it in that “please God put my name in lights for Your Glory” kind of way. Again, under the fodder there was real desire for God.. there was just a lot of fodder that needed to be burned off.
If I had any idea that the Lord was going to use all of my choices for His Good by taking me through the desert, letting me get bruised and bloodied in my fights against Pride, Bitterness, Anxiety and the like, wandering with me through the seaside of loneliness, making me climb the mount of injury (and allowing me to get injured) only to make a way through forests of tribulation and danger, I might never have made that request. Not that I think my request set all of that in motion, but still…I bet my cry would have been different.
And still looking back at all of those seasons and experiences, I feel that pit of nostalgia building inside me. I can feel myself drawing my legs in, sitting on the seat of that old Swedish train to look out the window. The scenary flying by is terrible and rugged and majestic, green mixed with white, Spring and Winter, beauty and ashes, sorrow and joy, mourning and praise.
Welling up in me is a sense of gratitude and longing that bubbles up and cannot help but overflow. I learned a secret in the wilderness. Sorrow may last for a night, but Joy comes in the morning. I had heard that many times before experiencing it, but I what I didn’t know until I went through was that Sorrow doesn’t get exchanged for Joy instead Sorrow becomes Joy. The Light shines on what had been weeping and reveals it to be the obvious precursor to dancing.
There are a great many things I am glad to close the chapter on; many things I am thankful to speak about in the past tense. What the Lord has carried me through, I would have never thought possible. Don’t think I am an Isrealite thinking wishfully about Egypt. No, no, no…
Not a smidge.
What I do find myself longing for is that desperate dependence; that breathless abandon. I am plodding along through a thick mist that clears for a moment here and there when I get glimpses of all that is coming and will be; promises made good on. But for now, I am mostly plodding along on relatively level ground… working and playing and disciplining and being faithful.
“Lord, it just doesn’t feel very exciting. I don’t want to become an adrenaline junkie, but the ground is just very level.” (The gut level honesty)
It was never the snow.
“I want to be envigorated here on level ground too.” (The heart cry)
“To everything there is a season, and a time for every matter or purpose under heaven:
A time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to pluck up what is planted,
A time to kill and a time to heal, a time to break down and a time to build up,
A time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,
A time to cast away stones and a time to gather stones together, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
A time to get a time to lose, a time to keep and a time to cast away,
A time to rend and a time to sew, a time to keep silence and a time to speak,
A time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace,…
HE HAS MADE EVERYTHING BEAUTIFUL IN ITS TIME”
My prayer changed thanks in part to the observations of one of the wisest men to ever live, Solomon.
“Lord help me to see You in this thick mist of everyday normalness. And when its too thick for me to see, help me to feel Your moving. Make it all beautiful in your time, just as You have with the seasons I never would have believed could be glorious. Make this level ground holy, purposeful and beautiful.”